Since the publication of my article “Lessons learned from Child Protective Services” I have been silently schooled by the Internet. Browsing early comments of the piece revealed that while I had captured the sentiments of CPS fairly well, I’d apparently really missed the mark on parents’ rights. You do not have to let someone in your home without a warrant, and if someone does want inside — they’d better have one in hand. Heard.
I received more education recently when I was contacted by Laura Pegram of the Drug Policy Alliance about SB14-177 and SB14-178, two Colorado Senate bills introduced during the 2014 legislative session. “As far as we know, the legislation plans to make changes to both the civil and criminal code which might recriminalize some aspects of A64 in regard to parenting,” Pegram wrote. “I wanted to make sure you were aware of it as it seems especially relevant to your column.” She included the early proposals of the bills and wished me well.
Sure, I talk a big game, but I have never really been one to take my political views further than my own soapbox. (But oh, how I love that soapbox.) So I read both bills and gritted my teeth most of the way. This felt a little bit like a backhanded, sneaky-snake way of getting around the rights that Amendment 64 affords us. And while I wasn’t surprised that someone was trying to move such bills through legislation, I was surprised that it was happening in Colorado — the home of the free (joint with purchase of an eighth) and the brave (your way over here and take a dab).
Let’s be clear y’all — recreational pot use has been legal in Colorado since December 2012 when Gov. John Hickenlooper signed voter-approved Amendment 64 into law. It’s not a new thing to have the legal right to toke in your home (or other private residence or space) here in Colorado.
By the time retail weed was being sold legally on Jan. 1, 2014, CPS — a division of the Colorado Department of Human Services — had an idea of what to expect. In my past discussion with the representative from the Denver child-abuse hotline, I was asked if I’d tried all other means of medicating before settling on marijuana. Was I sure it was the only thing that worked for me? CPS did not reply to my questions by the time I submitted this article, so I will have to sum it up for you. Basically, CPS believes that when parents use marijuana, whether medically or for purposes of recreation, they are not performing their duties as caregivers to the best of their abilities.
But it’s harder to condemn someone for using an illegal substance once that substance is no longer illegal. In an effort for the state to have a universal definition for “drug endangered child” — and a basis for what is not acceptable in a home with any controlled substances — Colorado Sens. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, and Linda Newell, D-Littleton, introduced SB14-177 and SB14-178. Both bills were proposed additions to existing statutes.
The idea of the current statutes (C.R.S. 18-6-401, see (1)(c)) is that we need to protect kids from being in the presence of selling, using or manufacturing of controlled substances — particularly methamphetamine. It’s clear and precise. You cannot synthetically create a controlled substance in your home, and you can’t sell or buy specified ingredients with the intent of using them to make meth. If you do so, you are putting your child, or the child you are caring for, in a situation in which they would be labeled drug endangered.
In stark contrast, the proposed changes per Sens. Newell and Kerr appeared incredibly far-reaching. And the wording was too general:
“A child’s health or welfare is threatened by the impairment of the person responsible for the care of the child, as defined in section 19-1-103 (94), if the impairment of the person is due to the use of either a controlled substance, as defined in section 18-18-102(5), C.R.S., or any legal substance capable of causing mental or physical impairment.”
By using the term “controlled substance,” under which marijuana is still classified as a federal Schedule I drug, and without explicitly excluding marijuana, SB14-177 and SB14-178 would surely put cannabis users on shaky ground. The language, as originally proposed, was so broad in fact that it would also effectively make it child endangerment for the caregiver to have their prescribed Xanax (at particular doses) or even Robitussin A-C; both can be found on the federal list of controlled substances.
I’m curious if Sens. Kerr and Newell thought that by not having used the word “marijuana” specifically that it would slip under the radar and go unnoticed by advocates and enthusiasts alike.
If they did think that, they were wrong – because these bills felt like bull’s-eyes on the back of many in the cannabis community. And not just parents. An uncle, a grandmother, a friend — they all could be putting your child in danger according to these bills, just by having their legal, prescribed medicines. They wouldn’t even have to take it. The bills extended to the possession of controlled substances in their inclusion of scenarios in which a child would be drug endangered — successfully making a friend with weed no longer a friend indeed.
After my first reading of the drafts I just kept thinking, “Wait … what? How can they do that?”
Coloradans passed Amendment 64, right? So how could a new law be passed that makes the simple possession of a legal substance — within Colorado’s legal parameters — grounds for removal of a child? I know there aren’t going to be investigators peeking in medicine cabinets for Ambien (another legal controlled substance which according to SB14-177 and SB14-178, on the same premises, would make a child drug endangered).
I wondered if people who designed a bill to help children would be so pointed and obvious in targeting a certain sect of parents. Are people really still trying to make it harder for good parents who just happen to smoke weed? Was I being paranoid, or was this a disapproving sideways glance from some anti-marijuana folks?
It turned out I wasn’t alone. Questions were being raised by marijuana advocacy groups.
The bills were something the Drug Policy Alliance had some strong opposition to. In a coalition email I was included in, Pegram detailed problems with the bills: “The two separate definitions contradict each other in terms of what they consider substances that could lead to drug-endangerment. This discrepancy is very confusing and does nothing to clarify definitions of endangerment for law enforcement or child protective services. Nothing in either of these indicates any effort to keep the family intact, provide services or therapy for the family, or offer any solid plans for training for officers or reporters” — which is why they are claiming they need these new laws.
In addition, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, or COLOR, sent its own letter voicing disapproval of both bills, with concerns over proposed drug-testing language. The letter read, in part: “Medical groups across the country agree that laws like SB14-177 and SB14-178 undermine maternal, fetal and child health. This bill would punish and stigmatize drug addicted pregnant individuals instead of ensuring access to medical care and treatment services.”
Pegram invited me to meet up with group from DPA, which would be organizing in the basement of the Capitol before the Senate Judiciary Committee was to meet. There was also word on Facebook that several parents groups and marijuana advocates would be organizing in front of the Capitol. The curiosity was getting to me. That, and the disbelief that something this obviously anti-cannabis might pass in a legal state. I mean, I’m trying to help be a bit of a mouthpiece here — I wanted to be there. And I felt like I had no excuse not to go. I live a short bus ride from downtown, I had no real plans for that day and I knew it was time to practice what I preach by taking things a step further than my soapbox.
Have you been inspired to take part in the political discourse? Tell me about it in the comments.